(November 2000) The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was one of the principal achievements of the UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in 1992. The UNFCCC provides a basis for ongoing international negotiations to help stabilize atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases. As such, the UNFCCC built upon two earlier global agreements. In 1985, the world’s nations agreed to take strong action against depletion of stratospheric ozone by entering into the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer. This treaty established the framework under which the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer was negotiated in 1987.

In addition to creating a basis for negotiation, the UNFCCC set a goal for industrialized countries: to reduce their emissions of greenhouse gases not controlled by the Montreal Protocol to 1990 levels by 2000. (The goal for emissions reductions evolved in subsequent negotiations. The Convention was endorsed by 166 countries at UNCED and entered into force in 1994.

The Conference of Parties (COP) to the UNFCCC is the Convention’s highest authority. The COP reviews the implementation of the Convention and any related measures that are adopted under its purview. It also makes decisions necessary to promote the effective implementation of the Convention.

COP members fall into two classes: Annex I and Annex II. Annex I consists of 41 industrialized countries and economies. These parties have been the focus of emissions reductions negotiations to date and were given specific emissions targets under the Kyoto Protocol. They include: Australia, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, the European Union, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Monaco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, the Russian Federation, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Annex II consists of the Annex I parties minus the economies in transition. Annex II parties have special obligations under the UNFCCC to assist in the development of emissions monitoring systems in less developed countries and to help them adapt to the adverse effects of climate change. These obligations include transferring or financing the acquisition of environmentally sound technologies by less developed countries. Annex II parties include: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, the European Union, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

There have been five COP meetings to date:

  • March-April 1995: COP-1 produced the Berlin Mandate, which established a two-year analytical and assessment phase during which countries could investigate various options for complying with the Convention.
  • July 1996: The parties at COP-2 issued the Geneva Declaration calling for legally binding objectives and significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
  • December 1997: COP-3 in Japan established the Kyoto Protocol, which set specific greenhouse gas emissions targets for industrialized countries to meet.
  • November 1998: COP-4 produced the Buenos Aires Plan of Action. This two-year plan set deadlines for working out the remaining details of the Kyoto Protocol.
  • October-November 1999: COP-5 witnessed progress on some of the outstanding issues raised by the Protocol, and set COP-6 (November 2000) as the deadline for resolving the remaining questions.


Bingham Kennedy, Jr. is an associate editor at the Population Reference Bureau.